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Illegal Drug Use Rises for Youngest Teenagers

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While experimenting with illegal drugs such as marijuana may be tapering off among older high school students, more younger teenagers are sampling illicit drugs, says a recent national study.

More 6th, 7th, and 8th graders reported using cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, or heroin this year than in other recent years, according to PRIDE, the Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education. The Atlanta-based organization, which helps schools set up drug-abuse-prevention courses, conducts a survey on student drug use.

PRIDE found that 11.4 percent of the junior high students surveyed for its latest study had used an illegal drug at least once during the prior month, compared with 10.9 percent in the previous year, a statistically significant rise. Drug use did not climb among older students, the study released last month says.

For the group's 10th annual survey, PRIDE researchers distributed questionnaires to 141,077 6th to 12th graders in 28 states between September 1996 and June 1997.

Doug Hall, a spokesman for the organization, suggested that the hike in illegal drug use among the youngest teenagers may be due to parents' not stressing the hazards of drug abuse during early adolescence. Parents tend to talk to their children about drugs until the 6th grade, he said. "As the level of conversation drops, that's when drug use begins to escalate," he added.

In recent years, the PRIDE survey has been criticized by other researchers for employing questionable data-gathering techniques, such as using a different number of schools from year to year. The PRIDE study contradicts a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report that showed a drop in overall teenage drug use last year.

Drug researchers generally agree, though, that the varying results in studies about drug use sometimes point to the difficulty in gathering information about an illegal activity.

The PRIDE study is, in fact, consistent with previous findings from what is considered the country's most authoritative annual survey of adolescent drug use, the "Monitoring the Future" study, conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Having a GED may not help a student get a leg up in the job market, but it may help prevent teenage mothers from having more children, a Washington-based child-research group reported last week.

Teenage mothers who were involved in school activities or received a General Educational Development credential or a high school diploma were significantly less likely to bear another child before age 18 than other teenage mothers, researchers from Child Trends Inc. found. Earlier research has shown that teenagers who stay in school tend to have fewer children, but this study looked for the first time at the connection between earning a GED and decreased fertility rates, said Jennifer Manlove, a research associate at Child Trends and an author of the study.

For the report, researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Education Longitudinal Study, which followed a cohort of 6,000 8th graders from 1988 through 1992. The Child Trends study reviewed information on 600 of the teenage girls in the federal study who had delivered their first child between 1988 and 1992. It examined what might be associated with the young women's having a second child during adolescence.

Taking into account race, economic background, and other factors, the researchers found that girls who had earned a GED were 73 percent less likely to have a second child than those who did not have the high school equivalency certificate. Teenage mothers who earned a high school diploma were nearly 50 percent less likely to have a subsequent child than those without such a credential, the report says. In practical terms, Ms. Manlove said, earning a GED or a diploma had a similarly strong effect.

--JESSICA PORTNER jportner@epe.org

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